Translate

Saturday, November 8, 2014

7. FIRST FORAY: MONACO & ZUG





January 1991


Our high-tech client lost interest in Sci Data and, changing gears, asked us to explore the possibility of creating a lottery in Monaco. 

And so the stars aligned for the spymaster and me to travel to Europe as business partners, commencing January 9th, 1991.  The Gulf War was about to begin, and no one was going anywhere—except us.

It was actually the perfect time to travel; no problem with airline, hotel and restaurant reservations—we had Europe to ourselves.  Plus Clair felt as I:  that celebrations begin after the Christmas and New Year holidays are over and life resumes some semblance of normality.  (When people moaned about the onset of winter, Clair, ever the optimist, corrected:  From the moment winter begins, each new day is a little lighter and longer.)

The journey began at National Airport with an American Airlines Eagle Express flight to New York’s JFK.  I grabbed a hot dog while Clair read Barbarians at the Gate.  I joked that the small turbo-prop, gated between large jets, was ours.  Turned out it was.

“It’s all right,” Clair consoled, raincoat neatly folded on the chair next to him.  “I’ve flown in every plane there is.  This is an all-weather plane.  Very safe.”

We boarded.  The engines revved, propellers spun, and we took off.  As I sipped a gin and tonic and gazed out the window, a rainbow appeared above dense cloud.  A good omen.  I thought of Monaco, of dear friends I had not seen in many months; it left me feeling warm and tingly.

After flying in a prop plane, taking our seats in Pan American’s business class cabin felt like switching from a VW Beetle to a Mercedes.  A flight attendant handed us mimosas and, just before takeoff, Clair found a comfort zone in a whole row to himself.

Flight 082 arrived on time at Nice-Cote d’Azur Airport.  We caught the helicopter to Monaco, a seven-minute whirl across the French Riviera with astonishing views of Cap Farrat, Beaulieu, Eze, and finally, Monte Carlo.

Back then I still kept an apartment in Monaco, in Shangri-La, a building overlooking Port Hercules.  Clair took in the panoramic view from my third-floor balcony, amazed that I had this window on the Med, the port, the mountains—and Italy in the distance.  

Downstairs at Café Dauphin Verte, we drank cappuccino at an open-air table, the  sun shining brightly in a light blue sky, sixty degrees Fahrenheit.

Clair perused an International Herald Tribune, sipped cappuccino and leaned back in his chair.  “I could sit here all day and not feel guilty,” he said.  “In Bethesda, I wake up and look for things to do—the American work ethic, you have to do something.  But here it feels the most natural thing just to sit in a café, read, and do nothing.”

We did nothing for about an hour.  Then we manifested our good selves at the Monaco Yacht Club.  

One day, we’re freezing out butts off, slushing around in icebox weather; the next, luxuriating in warm sunshine, a tranquil sea, an elegant yacht club—and lunch with a prince.

We sat down to break bread with my old friend, an American resident of Monaco, and his good buddy, the Hereditary Prince Albert.

The prince was shy, not knowing where to fix his eyes or what to say, relying on his friend to keep conversation alive.  Soon I’m sipping kir (wine and cassis), ordering sea bass and thinking to myself, I’m having lunch with a prince and a former spymaster in the yacht club of one of the world’s glamor spots—is this for real?

Talk finally turned from pleasantries to lotteries.  Albert didn’t sound optimistic about creating a Monaco lottery, but didn’t shoot it down.  Others had tried, he said, but had not succeeded, partly because his principality desired to steer away from its gambling image.

“Lottery isn’t gambling,” I said, repeating a quote that came from Sci Data’s chief executive.  “Lottery is the imagination business. People who buy tickets imagine what they would do if they won a million dollars.  They fantasize about having lunch at a yacht club on the French Riviera with a prince.”  

We all laughed.

In truth, lottery is a tax on people who don’t know arithmetic.

Afterwards, the prince gone, his friend recommended taking the lottery proposal to Albert’s uncle, Prince Louis de Polignac, chairman emeritus of SBM, which was, in actuality, Monaco Inc.

Clair and I spent the next couple days goofing off.

“Let’s goof off,” Clair would say.  If he wasn’t “floating around,” he was “goofing off.”

And goof off we did, floating around Monaco’s finest dining establishments while awaiting Harry Schultz to meet his newsletter deadline before meeting us.

Finally, on Monday, Harry phoned: “Let’s meet at the Hotel Metropole, three p.m.”  

During our assignment, Harry had never spoken to Clair, could not be certain Clair wasn’t still working for CIA and had come to rendition him back to the United States.  But Harry and Clair took to one another immediately.  Harry was discriminating, but he had a weakness for funny, charismatic people who showed him respect.

Clair, conversely, felt comfortable with everyone, whether a prince or a bum on the street. Clair knew how to work people and make them like him, trust him.  He was, after all, a man who made a career—an extremely successful one—of conning people to betray their countries and reveal important secrets. 

Harry looked absurd in several layers of clothing in contrasting colors, including a tartan vest and quirky tie.  His hair was greasy, unwashed, and he looked pale.  He said he suffered vertigo.

Clair sympathized and empathized, as only Clair could.

Accompanied by Joy, a rather joyless lass from northern England who had evolved from clerk to concubine, Harry took a full minute to decide where everyone should sit.  He was partly deaf in both ears, one worse than the other.

Distrustful of his memory, Harry relied on topic lists penciled onto a pad of paper, from “What did you mean by this?” referring to an insignificant phrase on a three-month old fax to “Why can’t we do something more drastic to Loony?” (the codename Harry had given his Texan tormentor.)

“What do you have in mind?” I asked whimsically.

“Let’s send him subscriptions to pornographic magazines,” said Harry.

“Hell, Harry, he’d probably like that,” I said.  “He just needs monitoring.  He’s really not that big of a threat to you.”

Had I wanted to make a fortune, I’d have told Harry that Loony was a huge threat.  But Clair and I were scrupulously honest in our dealings with clients, unlike many “rainmaker” charlatans that operated in the arena of problem resolution.  

“Loony thrives on your attention,” I added.  “Ignore him and he’ll buzz off.”

We sat in the Metropole lobby for three long hours ticking off Harry’s agenda.  Then we decided to have dinner.  I suggested Le Texan, a chance to jump into blue jeans and swig Heineken from the bottle.  Harry would have none of it, insisting on dining at The Hermitage Hotel nearby, where Russian noblemen spent the winters a century before.  We would re-group at 7:30.

The Hermitage—all of Monte Carlo—was a ghost town with war expected any minute, and whatever that meant.  Saddam Hussein had threatened the worst for Israel (all he could muster were Scuds) and Europeans perceived the ramifications as ominous.

We were the only patrons in The Hermitage’s restaurant.  Harry, clearly, had never learned the French way of choosing a restaurant by how busy it is.  The ambience was opulent but the salmon tasted as if it had been cooked a week earlier, refrigerated, and microwaved.

Harry talked about the significance of numerology.  He made us tell him our birthdates from which he determined our lucky numbers.  When dessert arrived, he returned to his agenda, a few items still un-crossed.

“Do you really think we shouldn’t do something to Loony?” said Harry.

I rolled my eyes, tired for sitting many hours and winding up with frightful food. I asked Harry if he wanted to play games or truly resolve his problem.

He grew timid, retreated, and it was past midnight when we finally parted.  

Back at my apartment, I found a telephone message from Bob the Lawyer who, calling from Zug, requested that Clair and I drop in to see his client, Marc Rich.

Clair could scarcely believe his ears when I phoned him.  But he was very game.

It meant having to cut Harry short.  When we met him next morning, again at The Metropole, Harry had a slew of new items on his agenda.  He slowly plodded through them, milking each trivial point for much more than it was worth.  I tapped my foot, slapped my knee, and tried to bring each item to fast resolution.  But Harry wasn’t interested in resolution; he wanted to vent.

“Now, when you said in a faxed report two months ago that Loony works at an x-ray lab, what exactly did you mean?”

He was really saying:  I paid for you guys to fly out here.  I want my money’s worth.

Finally, he suggested lunch as a means of concluding our sessions with him.  The last item on his agenda, he said, was UFOs.  He wanted us to find one, along with some aliens, if possible.


We broke bread in the open-air of the Metropole’s terrace restaurant.  It went slow, oh so slow, until I could take no more.  I hadn’t yet packed and needed to close my apartment.  

I excused myself, allowing Clair to draw a curtain.  He finally told Harry he had to fly off on a secret mission, something about imminent war…



No comments:

Post a Comment